Rose Bowl: Game Grades
Game Grades: Rose Bowl Game
In what many have called the bowl game of the season, the USC Trojans converted a last-second field goal to clinch the highest scoring Rose Bowl in history. Predictably, USC had the lead during most of the first half before Penn State started to bring the game back under control. In the third quarter Penn State scored 28 points to take the lead before being blanked in the fourth quarter in USC’s stunning comeback. It was an exciting game for all involved with many highlights and just as many moments from which to learn.
With the season now over, Penn State will look to bolster the positions now vacated by graduating seniors and work to make an even stronger run next year.
Here are the position grades for the Rose Bowl:
Trace McSorley, the sophomore quarterback who had led the Nittany Lions to win after win in his first year as the starter, couldn’t quite manage one last win to finish off the season. He had appeared incredibly poised in his role all year, leading the team to a nine-game win streak including many come-from-behind victories. During the Rose Bowl however, McSorley seemed to be having flashbacks to the beginning of the year. Though he completed 18 of 29 pass attempts, threw for four touchdowns and ran for one, he caught the turnover bug. McSorley’s first and last pass attempts of the game were intercepted. The final interception of his three ended Penn State’s chances to seal the win late, giving many Penn State fans flashbacks to the game against Pitt which ended similarly. Though he did end up throwing away their chance to break the tie right at the end, McSorley was also a huge reason why the Nittany Lions did so well to keep the game close. During the offseason, McSorley will surely improve and as the team improves around him Penn State will be an even bigger threat.
Running Backs: A
Saquon Barkley put in another incredible performance, putting up 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries as well as 55 yards and a touchdown on five receptions. Barkley’s 79-yard rushing touchdown to start Penn State’s four touchdowns on four plays in the third quarter will be remembered for years to come. The only thing that Penn State needs to work on to increase his productivity even more is to open more holes up the middle. Barkley was sent up the middle often this season and rarely managed to be consistent. He had more success when he changed course and jumped to the outside, as he did on his long touchdown run. Implementing more successful trench warfare would, in turn, give Barkley a higher chance to find holes to the outside when he needs to.
Wide Receivers: A-
With Saeed Blacknall suspended from the team due to breaking team rules, Chris Godwin had his game of the season, hauling in nine receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his touchdowns came from long bombs down the field by McSorley and were spectacular catches in traffic. Many times McSorley looked to Godwin to pull the team out of a tough spot, and it worked almost every time. Godwin even managed a very important one-handed catch to get the Nittany Lions a first down. Sadly for the Penn State faithful, as well as Godwin had played the entire afternoon, he couldn’t corral McSorley’s prayer in the final seconds of the game. As a junior, Godwin should be back next year, a very big deal for this Penn State team, as he has one of the highest reception totals on the team with 59. The only other wide receiver to catch a pass in the game was DeAndre Thompkins, though he only caught two for nine yards, and one of his targets ended up as an interception after bouncing off of his hands.
Tight Ends: B
Mike Gesicki didn’t have much action in the Rose Bowl, only racking up one reception. The one reception, however, was a great high-pointing catch, using his 6-6 frame to bring down a fantastic touchdown to end Penn State’s offensive first half on a positive note. During the play before the final interception of the game, McSorley spotted a wide open Gesicki down the field. The pass was thrown a little short and Gesicki made the mistake of sitting back and waiting for the ball to come to him instead of attacking it and catching it at its peak as he did for his touchdown. His hesitation resulted in the pass nearly being intercepted instead of giving the Nittany Lions the first down and better field position. Gesicki has announced that he will be staying at Penn State for his senior year. This is great news for the Nittany Lions, as he was a huge part of the receiving core all year.
Offensive Line: B-
Penn State’s offensive line didn’t have a great game, but it also certainly wasn’t the worst of the season for them. McSorley was scrambling a lot throughout the game, but with his skill set, it isn’t as much of a problem as it was when Christian Hackenberg, a quarterback who relies more on the pocket, was the starter. It also helps that Saquon Barkley is known for his ability to evade tacklers. When the line can’t make a hole up the middle, Barkley has the option of jumping to the outside. Freshman lineman Connor McGovern also gave the offense another chance by jumping on the ball after McSorley fumbled at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Bolstering the offensive line is going to be a big priority for the Nittany Lions during the offseason, and with the recruiting class coming in, it will be exciting to see how good the team will be next year.
It is very hard to give the defense a decent grade after giving up 52 points in a game. Three times on the year they gave up over 40 points to the opposing team. Those three games were Penn State’s only three losses on the season. It just goes to show that, as we all have heard a million times, defense wins championships. Without Manny Bowen due to suspension for breaking team rules, Penn State was shorthanded on defense. By the end of the game Penn State only had one tackle for loss and one interception compared to USC’s four tackles for loss and three interceptions. Penn State’s one interception even ended on a sour note as it was senior Brandon Bell’s final play of his career. Bell injured his wrist during the play and was seen in a sling on the sideline for the rest of the game. If bolstering the offensive line is a big priority for Penn State during the offseason, working on defensive consistency has got to be another top priority.
Special Teams: B+
Tyler Davis didn’t have any chances during the game to kick any field goals as the offense either sputtered out beyond his field goal range or made it into the end zone, but he was seven for seven on extra points. Punter Blake Gillikin did well on his five punts in the game, averaging over 50 yards per attempt. His final punt rolled just inside the end zone for a touchback before USC drove down the field with a minute left to tie and eventually win the game. Who knows what could have happened if it had just stopped short? For sanity’s sake, it’s best not to think on it too much. Penn State also did their best to keep USC’s star returner from getting anything going. It worked out mostly, minus one 35-yard return and a couple of mediocre kickoffs by Tyler Davis. Davis had to step in as kick off specialist instead of the usual Joey Julius, who also has the stronger leg. Julius was seen riding the exercise bike at times during the game.
Head Coach James Franklin has been trying to get his team to start strong all year as to not have to rely on a big comeback in the second half. Finally, the Nittany Lions’ second half luck ran out. Franklin’s job isn’t under too much debate after the season his team had, especially not as much as the beginning of the year. However, play calling has always been an issue at times for this Penn State team under Franklin. Poor choices calling plays was part of the reason why Penn State was one of the worst teams in the NCAA on third down with short yardage. Hopefully over the offseason the team can mend the holes left by graduating seniors, upgrade where necessary, and find a game plan with which the team can succeed more consistently.
Tommy Butler is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.